The Co-Living of Cats and Dogs

Cat and Dog are best friends
Cat and Dog are best friends / Anadolu Agency/GettyImages

Many pet owners decide to own both cats and dogs. Some cats and some dogs will never be able to co-exist peacefully; however, the co-living of pets has the best opportunity to be successful if handled properly from the beginning. Since cats are typically seen as “prey,” you will need to follow the cat’s lead as far as introductions go, whether the cat is a new or a current resident. Even once your pets are introduced, you should keep a close eye on their interactions. For everyone’s safety, supervised interactions are best, as when one of your pets is having a bad day, it can go wrong very quickly. 

Introducing Your Cat and Dog Properly

Introductions between cats and dogs should be slow and under the owner’s complete control. Dogs often enjoy chasing as a form of playfulness and will try to chase cats, but this should be discouraged, especially when the animals are first meeting. Make sure your cat has many hiding spots that are inaccessible to the dog so they can retreat when uncomfortable. 

  1. Both cats and dogs rely on their sense of smell for identifying other animals. Before bringing your new pet home, see if you can get their scent on a blanket or piece of clothing to introduce it to your current pet. This allows them to get comfortable with each other before physically meeting.
  2. Be sure both pets have a “safe place” away from the other. This area should have a spot where they can eat, drink, rest, and potty. Cats need to have a safe spot away from the dog because dogs tend to be a bigger stressor for cats than cats are to dogs.
  3. Ensure your current pet is comfortable and knows where their “safe place” is before the new pet comes home. Let them each spend time alone in these areas so they are well acquainted with their location and layout. 
  4. Be sure there is a way to separate the pets, at least temporarily, whether that be keeping them in different rooms or using baby gates to separate sections of your house.
  5. When your new pet comes home, continue introducing the animals to one another’s smells by swapping blankets. This should be continued throughout the first week of co-living or until both animals show no adverse reactions to each other’s scents. 
  6. Once they are comfortable with each other’s scents, you can begin gradual, supervised introductions. When your cat enters the room with your dog, reward your dog’s calm behavior and encourage them to follow the cat’s lead. 
  7. Do not force your cat into the same room as your dog. Being forced into a stressful situation may cause your cat to become violent. Provide your cat with lots of shelves and other crevices they can use to escape from the dog.

While introducing the pets, you must follow the cat’s lead. When the cat is comfortable with each step, you can progress to the next. If the cat is showing aggression towards your dog at any time, you will need to take it back a step and try again when the cat is calm. Do not hold your cat and force them into the same area as your dog. This will scare the cat and likely make them have a negative connection with the dog.

Always keep strict supervision over your dog when introducing your pets. Encourage calmness around the cat with dog treats and other forms of positive reinforcement such as petting. Your dog’s calm behavior will help your cat be more confident in approaching and being near your dog.

If you find your dog is overly excited when the cat enters the room or is within sight, you should remove your dog calmly from the situation. You can do this by taking them to another room or kenneling. Do not punish your dog, as this is a natural behavior and will take time to work through. 

Keeping your cat and dog in different rooms, or mainly just physically separated, until they are well acquainted is essential to successful co-living. Be sure your cat’s “safe area” as well as its necessities are easily accessed without having to pass the dog. 

Tips to Avoid Aggressive Behavior 

Once your pets are consistently comfortable in each other’s presence, there are still some things you can do to ensure they have a positive relationship and keep the peace between them.

  • Keep a “safe space” for both pets, especially the cat. Even when they are comfortable with one another, your pets will need time away from each other to eat, drink, potty, and even play. Sometimes they may choose to do these things together, but they should still be provided with their area.
  • Make sure your cat has high places to get around where your dog cannot reach. These can be made of empty shelves or ledges. 
  • Continue giving your dog treats and petting them as rewards for calm behavior around your cat.
  • When your dog gets energetic around your cat, do not punish them. Dogs are naturally energetic beings, and punishing them can create a negative association with the cat, possibly making the behavior worse. 
  • Dogs that are not actively stimulated are more likely to overwhelm your cat. Make sure you give your dog individual attention and lots of playtime to keep them calmer.

By following your pets’ lead, they can become the best of friends. Remember, following your cat’s lead and comfort level is key, as they are the smaller animal and considered “prey” in this situation. Even once they are comfortable, supervision is best for everyone’s safety. You may be able to trust your pets unsupervised together for short periods, but this should not be anytime shortly after the introductory period. At the minimum, your pets should be supervised for a few months to a few years when together.